A. For most of us, doing nothing can be one of the most difficult things to pull off. We are profoundly conditioned beings, and the need to be always ‘productive’ is very ingrained conditioning – especially for us western people. Just to sit, just to be, can evoke all sorts of emotions. Try, as an experiment, to just do nothing, and experience the intense frustration that can arise. How interesting. Restlessness, in a very real sense, is all that Dharma practice is dealing with – learning to be just with whatever is in front of us at any given time without trying to possess or manipulate or avoid.

Something is always there, trying to possess or avoid the moment, and that is our sense of self. If it doesn’t exert itself, then the self becomes lost and frightened. Stay with that frustration and allow the emotional upheaval that arises to come up and burn itself out, for that is surely what will happen if we don’t react and fall into an old habit, like filling the gap with some activity. This is the usual reaction we have in these situations. On a deeper level what happens when we are still is that we begin to come into contact with our unprotected self and experience its true reality – darkness, loneliness and fear. This is why we can hardly ever be still, always on the move, always avoiding our existential reality. By remaining still and allowing that fear to burn itself out, change will occur – true change – Dharma change.

Dharma practice is about working with whatever life presents us with. Sometimes we are busy, sometimes we are not. Practice is not a process by which we create things to work with, as this would become another activity of the self. Having said that, dealing with our emotional reactions through our everyday experiences can at times be too much for us, so allowing ourselves diversions from time to time can be a necessary reality. But the key is to be aware that we are diverting, and why. That’s all, there is nothing to act upon, just to know is enough.

If you like action movies, then that is okay. I don’t think making yourself engage with something ‘cultured’ is necessarily a better thing to do. But if you feel that that may help temper your restlessness, then give it go. If you find that you are forcing yourself into something that others tell you will make you more cultured, yet causes tension in you, drop it. More refined cultural activities may well have qualities that could be said to be more harmonious with the qualities needed in spiritual practice, but there is always the danger of trying to turn yourself into just another person. If you try to do this you may well just be replacing one persona for another, and what a waste of time that would be! Whether you appreciate Mozart or prefer a good goal scored in the rough and tumble of an emotional football match makes not a jot of difference to the Dharma. Skillful practice is about knowing yourself in all situations – whatever they may be. The living Dharma supports all life and is not concerned with the cultural values created by society. Just be yourself, learn to live in harmony with yourself, and the Dharma will love and support you